Friday, April 03, 2015

Some observations on Cook's bible

The title page to Cook's bible. Thanks to the State Library of NSW (pic by ML)

It was great to have the opportunity to have a look at Cook’s bible – the one that accompanied him on the Endeavour. Getting up close and personal with such material remains of the past is one of the things I love about doing history. Thanks, NSW State Librarians!

I noticed a few things, which perhaps you will also find interesting:
  • It was printed at Oxford in 1765
  • Unsurprisingly, it is in the King James translation
  • It includes the books called Apocrypha, separately between the Old and New Testaments

  • Also, Cook's bible has lots of illustrations, mainly of biblical scenes and characters. Notably, though, two etchings underscore a very particularly Protestant version of English history: one depicting King Charles the Martyr and another, the 1605 powder plot!

  • Each page includes printed notes in the margin, of mainly three kinds – cross references to related other passages, references to the church calendar, and a date, noting when the events described were thought to have taken place. Genesis chapter 1, for example, was dated at 4004BC, according to the chronology developed by Archbishop Ussher in the seventeenth century.   

  • It was difficult to detect signs of any particular patterns of use. There were no personal annotations in the margins, no passages that had been clearly marked. The discolouration to the pages only varied a little – and perhaps that’s just because of paper quality? (It is almost certainly reading too much into it, to suggest that Cook didn’t read Romans or Galatians very much - the pages are still pretty white – but opened sections of 2 Corinthians and Hebrews more often - as they are really yellowing!)

  • There are marks that could have been the result of fingering in just a couple of places – and only one which seems clear to me. It is alongside Mark chapter 10 verse 41, i.e. a passage which warns against lording it over people and teaches instead that greatness is found in serving others. Perhaps Cook, a commanding officer, found these verses helpful as a leader of men in the close quarters of the Endeavour.


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